The Specimens Escape
Knowing well that conversation with its fellows is one of the greatest
needs of any intelligent being, the Nevians had permitted the
Terrestrial specimens to retain possession of their ultra-beam
communicators. Thus it was that Costigan had been able to keep in touch
with his sweetheart and with Bradley. He learned that each had been
placed upon exhibition in a different Nevian city: that the three had
been separated i
response to an insistent popular demand for such a
distribution of the peculiar, but highly interesting creatures from a
distant solar system. They had not been harmed. In fact, each was
visited daily by a specialist, who made sure that his charge was being
kept in the pink of condition.
As soon as he became aware of this condition of things Costigan became
morose. He sat still, drooped, and pined away visibly. He refused to
eat, and of the worried specialist he demanded liberty. Then, failing in
that as he knew he would fail, he demanded something to do. They
pointed out to him, reasonably enough, that in such a civilization as
theirs there was nothing he could do. They assured him that they would
do anything they could to alleviate his mental suffering, but that since
he was a museum piece he must see, himself, that he must be kept on
display for a short time. Wouldn't he please behave himself and eat, as
a reasoning being should? Costigan sulked a little longer, then wavered.
Finally he agreed to compromise. He would eat and exercise if they would
fit up a laboratory in his apartment, so that he could continue the
studies he had begun upon his own native planet. To this they agreed,
and thus it came about that one day the following conversation was held:
"Clio? Bradley? I've got something to tell you this time. Haven't said
anything before, for fear things might not work out, but they did. I
went on a hunger strike and made them give me a complete laboratory. As
a chemist I'm a darn good electrician; but luckily, with the sea-water
they've got here, it's a very simple thing to make...."
"Hold on!" snapped Bradley. "Somebody may be listening in on us!"
"They aren't. They can't, without my knowing it, and I'll cut off the
second anybody tries to synchronize with my beam. To resume--making
Vee-Two is a very simple process, and I've got everything around here
that's hollow clear full of it...."
"How come they let you?" asked Clio.
"Oh, they don't know what I'm doing. They watched me for a few days, and
all I did was make up and bottle the weirdest messes imaginable. Then I
finally managed to separate oxygen and nitrogen, after trying hard all
of one day; and when they thought they saw that I didn't know anything
about either one of them or what to do with them after I had them, they
gave me up in disgust as a plain dumb ape and haven't paid any attention
to me since. So I've got me plenty of kilograms of liquid Vee-Two, all
ready to touch off. I'm getting out of here in about three minutes and a
half, and I'm coming over after you folks, in a new, iron-powered
space-speedster that they don't know I know anything about. They've just
given it its final tests, and it's the slickest thing you ever saw."
"But Conway, dearest, you can't possibly rescue me," Clio's voice broke.
"Why, there are thousands of them, all around here. If you can get away,
go, dear, but don't...."
"I said I was coming after you, and if I can get away I'll be there. A
good whiff of this stuff will lay out a thousand of them just as easily
as it will one. Here's the idea. I've made a gas mask for myself, since
I'll be in it where it's thick, but you two won't need any. The gas is
soluble enough in water so that three or four thicknesses of wet cloth
over your noses will be enough. I'll tell you when to wet down. We're
going to break away or go out trying--there aren't enough amphibians
between here and Andromeda to keep us humans cooped up like menagerie
animals forever! But here comes my specialist with the keys to the city;
time for the overture to start. See you later!"
The Nevian physician directed his key-tube upon the transparent wall of
the chamber and an opening appeared, an opening which vanished as soon
as he had stepped through it; Costigan kicked a valve open; and from
various innocent tubes there belched forth into the water of the central
lagoon and into the air over it a flood of deadly vapor. As the Nevian
turned toward the prisoner there was an almost inaudible hiss and a tiny
jet of the frightful, outlawed stuff struck his open gills, just below
his huge, conical head. He tensed momentarily, twitched convulsively
just once, and fell motionless to the floor. And outside, the streams of
avidly soluble liquefied gas rushed out into air and into water. It
spread, dissolved, and diffused with the extreme mobility which is one
of its characteristics; and as it diffused and was borne outward the
Nevians, in their massed hundreds, died. Died not knowing what killed
them; not knowing even that they died. Costigan, bitterly resentful of
the inhuman treatment accorded the three and fiercely anxious for the
success of his plan of escape, held his breath and, grimly alert,
watched the amphibians die. When he could see no more motion anywhere he
donned his gas-mask, strapped upon his back a large canister of the
poison--his capacious pockets were already full of smaller
containers--and two savagely exultant sentences escaped him.
"I am a poor, ignorant specimen of ape, that can be let play with
apparatus, am I?" he rasped, as he picked up the key-tube of the
specialist and opened the door of his prison. "Maybe they'll learn
sometime that it ain't always safe to judge by the looks of a flea how
far he can jump!"
He stepped out through the opening into the water, and, burdened as he
was, made shift to swim to the nearest ramp. Up it he ran, toward a main
corridor. But ahead of him there was wafted a breath of dread Vee-Two,
and where that breath went, went also unconsciousness--an
unconsciousness which would deepen gradually into permanent oblivion
save for the prompt intervention of one who possessed, not only the
necessary antidote, but the equally important knowledge of exactly how
to use it. Upon the floor of that corridor were strewn Nevians, who had
dropped in their tracks. Past or over their bodies Costigan strode,
pausing only to direct a jet of lethal vapor into whatever branching
corridor or open doorway caught his eye. He was going to the intake of
the city's ventilation plant, and no unmasked creature dependent for
life upon oxygen could bar his path. He reached the intake, tore the
canister from his back, and released its full, vast volume of horrid
contents into the primary air stream of the entire city.
And all throughout that doomed city Nevians dropped; quietly and without
a struggle, unknowing. Busy executives dropped upon their cushioned,
flat-topped desks; hurrying travelers and messengers dropped upon the
floors of the corridors or relaxed in the noxious waters of the ways;
lookouts and observers dropped before their flashing screens; central
operators of communications dropped under the winking lights of their
panels. Observers and centrals in the outlying sections of the city
wondered briefly at the unwonted universal motionlessness and
stagnation; then the racing taint in water and in air reached them, too,
and they ceased wondering--forever.
Then through those quiet halls Costigan stalked to a certain storage
room, where with all due precaution he donned his own suit of
Triplanetary armor. Making an ungainly bundle of the other Solarian
equipment stored there, he dragged it along behind him as he clanked
back toward his prison, until he neared the dock at which was moored the
Nevian space-speedster which he was determined to take. Here, he knew,
was the first of many critical points. The crew of the vessel was
aboard, and, with its independent air-supply, unharmed. They had
weapons, were undoubtedly alarmed, and were very probably highly
suspicious. They, too, had ultra-beams and might see him, but his very
closeness to them would tend to protect him from ultra-beam observation.
Therefore he crouched tensely behind a buttress, staring through his
spy-ray goggles, waiting for a moment when none of the Nevians would be
near the entrance, but grimly resolved to act instantly should he feel
any touch of a spying ultra-beam.
"Here's where the pinch comes," he growled to himself. "I know the
combination, but if they're suspicious enough and act quick enough they
can seal that door on me before I can get it open, and then rub me out
like a blot; but ... ah!"
The moment had arrived, before the touch of any revealing ray. He
trained the key-tube, the entrance opened, and through that opening in
the instant of its appearance there shot a brittle bulb of glass, whose
breaking meant death. It crashed into fragments against a metallic wall
and Costigan, entering the vessel, consigned its erstwhile crew one by
one to the already crowded waters of the lagoon. He then leaped to the
controls and drove the captured speedster through the air, to plunge it
down upon the surface of the lagoon beside the door of the isolated
structure which had for so long been his prison. Carefully he
transferred to the vessel the motley assortment of containers of
Vee-Two, and after a quick check-up to make sure that he had overlooked
nothing, he shot his craft straight up into the air. Then only did he
close his ultra-wave circuits and speak.
"Clio, Bradley--I got away clean, without a bit of trouble. Now I'm
coming after you, Clio."
"Oh, it's wonderful that you got away, Conway!" the girl exclaimed. "But
hadn't you better get Captain Bradley first? Then, if anything should
happen, he would be of some use, while I...."
"I'll knock him into an outside loop if he does!" the captain snorted,
and Costigan went on:
"You won't need to. You come first, Clio, of course. But you're too far
away for me to see you with my spy, and I don't want to use the
high-powered beam of this boat for fear of detection; so you'd better
keep on talking, so that I can trace you."
"That's one thing I am good at!" Clio laughed in sheer relief. "If
talking were music, I'd be a full brass band!" and she kept up a flow of
inconsequential chatter, until Costigan told her that it was no longer
necessary; that he had established the line.
"Any excitement around there yet?" he asked her then.
"Nothing unusual that I can see," she replied. "Why? Should there be
"I hope not, but when I made my get-away I couldn't kill them all, of
course, and I thought maybe they might connect things up with my
jail-break and tell the other cities to take steps about you two. But I
guess they're pretty well disorganized back there yet, since they can't
know who hit them, or what with, or why. I must have got about everybody
that wasn't sealed up somewhere, and it doesn't stand to reason that
those who are left can check up very closely for a while yet. But
they're nobody's fools--they'll certainly get conscious when I snatch
you, maybe before ... there, I see your city, I think."
"What are you going to do?"
"Same as I did back there, if I can. Poison their primary air and all
the water I can reach...."
"Oh, Conway!" Her voice rose to a scream. "They must know--they're all
getting out of the water and are rushing inside the buildings as fast as
they possibly can!"
"I see they are," grimly. "I'm right over you now, 'way up. Been
locating their primary intake. They've got a dozen ships around it, and
have guards posted all along the corridors leading to it; and those
guards are wearing masks! They're clever birds, all right, those
amphibians--they know what they got back there and how they got it. That
changes things, girl! If we use gas here we won't stand a chance in the
world of getting old Bradley. Stand by to jump when I open that door!"
"Hurry, dear! They are coming out here after me!"
"Sure they are." Costigan had already seen the two Nevians swimming out
toward Clio's cage, and had hurled his vessel downward in a screaming
power dive. "You're too valuable a specimen for them to let you be
gassed, but if they can get there before I do they're traveling fast!"
He miscalculated slightly, so that instead of coming to a halt at the
surface of the liquid medium the speedster struck with a crash that
hurled solid masses of water for hundreds of yards. But no ordinary
crash could harm that vessel's structure, her gravity controls were not
overloaded, and she shot back to the surface; gallant ship and reckless
pilot alike unharmed. Costigan trained his key-tube upon the doorway of
Clio's cell, then tossed it aside.
"Different combinations over here!" he barked. "Got to cut you out--lie
down in that far corner!"
His hands flashed over the panel, and as Clio fell prone without
hesitation or question a heavy beam literally blasted away a large
portion of the roof of the structure. The speedster shot into the air
and dropped down until she rested upon the tops of opposite walls; walls
still glowing, semi-molten. The girl piled a stool upon the table and
stood upon it, reached upward, and seized the mailed hands extended
downward toward her. Costigan heaved her up into the vessel with a
powerful jerk, slammed the door shut, leaped to the controls, and the
speedster darted away.
"Your armor's in that bundle there. Better put it on, and check your
Lewistons and pistols--no telling what kind of jams we'll get into," he
snapped, without turning. "Bradley, start talking ... all right, I've
got your line. Better get your wet rags ready and get organized
generally--every second will count by the time we get there. We're
coming so fast that our outer plating's white hot, but it may not be
fast enough, at that."
"It isn't fast enough, quite," Bradley announced, calmly. "They're
coming out after me now."
"Don't fight them and probably they won't paralyze you. Keep on talking,
so that I can find out where they take you."
"No good, Costigan." The voice of the old space-flea did not reveal a
sign of emotion as he made his dread announcement. "They have it all
figured out. They're not taking any chances at all--they're going to
paral...." His voice broke off in the middle of the word.
With a bitter imprecation Costigan flashed on the powerful ultra-beam
projector of the speedster and focused the plate upon Bradley's prison;
careless now of detection, since the Nevians were already warned. Upon
that plate he watched the Nevians carry the helpless body of the captain
into a small boat, and continued to watch as they bore it into one of
the largest buildings of the city. Up a series of ramps they took the
still form, placing it finally upon a soft couch in an enormous and
heavily guarded central hall. Costigan turned to his companion, Clio,
and even through the helmets she could see plainly the white agony of
his expression. He moistened his lips and tried twice to speak--tried
and failed: but he made no move either to cut off their power or to
change their direction.
"Of course," she approved, steadily. "We are going through. I know that
you want to run with me, but if you actually did it, I would never
want to see you or hear of you again, and you would hate me forever."
"Hardly that." The anguish did not leave his eyes and his voice was
hoarse and strained, but his hands did not vary the course of the
speedster by so much as a hair's breadth. "You're the finest little
fellow that ever waved a plume, and I would love you no matter what
happened. I'd trade my immortal soul to the devil if it would get you
out of this mess, but we're both in it up to our necks and we can't dog
it now. If they kill him we beat it--he and I both knew that it was on
the chance of that happening that I took you first--but as long as all
three of us are alive it's all three or none."
"Of course," she said again, as steadily, thrilled this time to the
depths of her being by the sheer manhood of him who had thus simply
voiced his Code; a man of such fiber that neither love of life, nor the
infinitely more powerful love of her which she knew he bore, could make
him lower its high standard.
"We are going through. Forget that I am a woman. We are three human
beings, fighting a world full of monsters. I am simply one of us three.
I will steer your ship, fire your projectors, or throw your bombs. What
can I do best?"
"Throw bombs," he directed, briefly. He knew what must be done were they
to have even the slightest chance of winning clear. "I'm going to blast
a hole down into the auditorium, and when I do you stand by that port
and start dropping bottles of perfume. Throw a couple of big ones right
down the shaft I make, and the rest of them most anywhere, after I cut
the wall open. They'll do good wherever they hit, land or water."
"But Captain Bradley--he'll be gassed, too." Her fine eyes were
"Can't be helped. I've got the antidote, and it'll work any time under
an hour. That'll be lots of time--if we aren't gone in less than ten
minutes we'll be staying here. They're bringing in platoons of militia
in full armor, and if we don't beat those boys to it we're in for plenty
of grief. All right--start throwing!"
The speedster had come to a halt directly over the imposing edifice
within which Bradley was incarcerated, and a mighty beam had flared
downward, digging a fiery well through floor after floor of stubborn
metal. The ceiling of the amphitheater pierced, the beam expired; and
down into that assembly hall there dropped two canisters of Vee-Two; to
crash and to fill its atmosphere with imperceptible death. Then the beam
flashed on again, this time at maximum power, and with it Costigan
burned away half of the gigantic building. Burned it away until room
above room gaped open, shelf-like, to outer atmosphere; the great hall
now resembling an over-size pigeon-hole surrounded by smaller ones. Into
that largest pigeon-hole the speedster darted, and cushioned desks and
benches crashed down, crushed flat under its enormous weight as it came
to rest upon the floor.
Every available guard had been thrown into that room, regardless of
customary occupation or of equipment. Most of them had been ordinary
watchmen, not even wearing masks, and all such were already down. Many,
however, were protected by masks, and a few were dressed in full armor.
But no portable armor could mount defenses of sufficient power to
withstand the awful force of the speedster's weapons, and one flashing
swing of a projector swept the hall almost clear of life.
"Can't shoot very close to Bradley with this big beam, but I'll mop up
on the rest of them by hand. Stay here and cover me, Clio!" Costigan
ordered, and went to open the door.
"I can't--I won't!" Clio replied instantly. "I don't know the controls
well enough. I'd kill you or Captain Bradley, sure; but I can shoot,
and I'm going to!" and she leaped out, close upon his heels.
Thus, flaming Lewiston in one hand and barking automatic in the other,
the two mailed figures advanced toward Bradley; now doubly helpless:
paralyzed by his enemies and gassed by his friends. For a time the
Nevians melted away before them, but as they approached more nearly the
couch, upon which the captain was, they encountered six figures encased
in armor fully as capable as their own. The beams of the Lewistons
rebounded from that armor in futile pyrotechnics, the bullets of the
automatics spattered and exploded impotently against it. And behind that
single line of armored guards were massed perhaps twenty unarmored, but
masked, soldiers; and scuttling up the ramps leading into the hall were
coming the platoons of heavily-armored figures which Costigan had
Decision instantly made, Costigan ran back toward the speedster, but he
was not deserting his companions.
"Keep the good work up!" he instructed the girl as he ran. "I'll pick
those jaspers off with a pencil ray and then stand off the bunch that's
coming while you rub out the rest of that crew there and drag Bradley
Back at the control panel, he trained a narrow, but intensely dense
pencil of livid flame, and one by one the six armored figures fell.
Then, knowing that Clio could handle the remaining opposition, he
devoted his attention to the reenforcements so rapidly approaching from
the sides. Again and again the heavy beam lashed out, now upon this
side, now upon that, and in its flaming path Nevians disappeared. And
not only Nevians--in the incredible energy of that beam's blast, floor,
walls, ramps, and every material thing vanished in clouds of thick and
brilliant vapor. The room temporarily clear of foes, he sprang again to
Clio's assistance, but her task was nearly done. She had "rubbed out"
all opposition and, tugging lustily at Bradley's feet, had already
dragged him almost to the side of the speedster.
"'At-a-girl, Clio!" cheered Costigan, as he picked up the burly captain
and tossed him through the doorway. "Highly useful, girl of my dreams,
as well as ornamental. In with you, and we'll start out to go places!"
But getting the speedster out of the now completely ruined hall proved
to be much more of a task than driving it in had been, for scarcely had
the Terrestrials closed their locks than a section of the building
collapsed behind them, cutting off their retreat. Nevian submarines and
airships were beginning to arrive upon the scene, and were raying the
building viciously in an attempt to entrap or to crush the Terrestrials
in its ruins. Costigan managed finally to blast his way out, but the
Nevians had had time to assemble in force and he was met by a
concentrated storm of beams and of metal from every inimical weapon
But not for nothing had Conway Costigan selected for his dash for
liberty the craft which, save only for the two immense interstellar
cruisers, was the most powerful vessel ever built upon red Nevia. And
not for nothing had he studied minutely and to the last, least detail
every item of its controls and of its armament during wearily long days
and nights of solitary imprisonment. He had studied it under test, in
action, and at rest; studied it until he knew thoroughly its every
possibility--and what a ship it was! The iron-driven generators of his
shielding screens handled with ease the terrific load of the Nevians'
assault, his polycyclic screens were proof against any material
projectile, and the machines supplying his offensive beams with power
were more than equal to their tasks. Driven now at full rating those
frightful weapons lashed out against the Nevian blocking the way, and
under their impacts her screens flared brilliantly through the spectrum
and went down. And in the instant of their failure the enemy vessel was
literally blown into nothingness--no unprotected metal, however
resistant, could exist for a moment in the pathway of those iron-driven
tornadoes of pure energy.
Ship after ship of the Nevians plunged toward the speedster in
desperately suicidal attempts to ram her down, but each met the same
flaming fate before its mass could collide with the ship of the
Terrestrials. Then, from the grouped submarines far below, there reached
up red rods of force, which seized the space-ship and began relentlessly
to draw her down.
"What are they doing that for, Conway? They can't fight us!"
"They don't want to fight us. They want to hold us, but I know what to
do about that, too," and the powerful tractor rods snapped as a plane of
lurid light drove through them. Upward now at the highest permissible
velocity the speedster leaped, and past the few ships remaining above
her she dodged; there was nothing now between her and the freedom of
"You did it, Conway; you did it!" Clio exulted. "Oh, Conway, you're just
"I haven't done it yet," Costigan cautioned her. "The worst is yet to
come. Nerado. He's why they wanted to hold us back, and why I was in
such a hurry to get away. That boat of his is bad medicine, girl, and we
want to put plenty of kilometers behind us before he gets started."
"But do you think he will chase us?"
"Think so? I know so! The mere facts, that we are rare specimens and
that he told us that we were going to stay there all the rest of our
lives, would make him chase us clear to Dustheimer's Nebula. Besides
that, we stepped on their toes pretty heavily before we left. We know
altogether too much now to be let get back to Tellus; and finally,
they'd all die of acute enlargement of the spleen if we get away with
this prize ship of theirs. I hope to tell you they'll chase us!"
He fell silent, devoting his whole attention to his piloting, driving
his craft onward at such velocity that its outer plating held steadily
at the highest point of temperature compatible with safety. Soon they
were out in open space, hurtling toward the sun under the drive of every
possible iota of power, and Costigan took off his armor and turned
toward the helpless body of the captain.
"He looks so ... so ... so dead, Conway! Are you really sure that you
can bring him to?"
"Absolutely. Lots of time yet. Just three simple squirts in the right
places will do the trick." He took from a locked compartment of his
armor a small steel box, which housed a surgeon's hypodermic and three
vials. One, two, three, he injected small, but precisely measured
amounts of the fluids into the three vital localities, then placed the
inert form upon a deeply cushioned couch.
"There! That'll take care of the gas in five or six hours. The paralysis
will wear off before that, so he'll be all right when he wakes up; and
we're going away from here with every watt of power we can put out. We
have done everything I know how to do, for the present."
Then only did Costigan turn and look down, directly into Clio's eyes.
Wide, eloquent blue eyes that gazed back up into his, tender and
unafraid; eyes freighted with the oldest message of woman to chosen man.
His hard young face softened wonderfully as he stared at her; there were
two quick steps and they were in each other's arms. Clio's lithely
rounded form nestled against Costigan's powerful body as his mighty arms
tightened around her; his neck and shoulder were no less
enthusiastically clasped, and less strongly only because of her woman's
slighter musculature. Lips upon eager lips, blue eyes to gray,
motionless they stood clasped in ecstasy; thinking nothing of the
dreadful past, nothing of the fearful future, conscious only of the
glorious, the wonderful present.
"Clio mine ... darling ... girl, girl, how I love you!" Costigan's deep
voice was husky with emotion. "I haven't kissed you for seven thousand
years! I don't rate you, by hundreds of steps; but if I can just get you
out of this mess, I swear by all the space...."
"You needn't, lover. Rate me? Good Heavens, Conway? It's just the
"Chop it!" he commanded in her ear. "I'm still dizzy at the idea of your
loving me at all, to say nothing of loving me this way! But you do,
and that's all I ask, here or hereafter!"
"Love you? Love you!" Their mutual embrace tightened and her low voice
thrilled brokenly as she went on: "Conway, dearest.... I can't say a
thing, but you know.... Oh, Conway!"
After a time Clio drew a long and tremulous, but supremely happy breath
as the realities of their predicament once more obtruded themselves upon
her consciousness. She released herself gently from Costigan's arms.
"Do you really think that there is a chance of us getting back to the
earth, so that we can be together ... always?"
"A chance, yes. A probability, no," he replied, unequivocally. "It
depends upon two things. First, how much of a start we got on Nerado.
His ship is the biggest and fastest thing I ever saw, and if he strips
her down and drives her--which he will--he'll catch us long before we
can make Tellus. On the other hand, I gave Rodebush a lot of data, and
if he and Lyman Cleveland can add it to their own stuff and get that
super-ship of ours rebuilt in time, they'll be out here on the prowl;
and they'll have what can give even Nerado plenty of argument. No use
worrying about it, anyway. We won't know anything until we can detect
one or the other of them, and then will be the time to do something
"If Nerado catches us, will you...." She paused.
"Rub you out? I will not. Even if he does catch us, and takes us back to
Nevia, I won't. There's lots more time coming onto the clock. Nerado
won't hurt either of us badly enough to leave scars, either physical,
mental, or moral. I'd kill you in a second if it were Roger; he's dirty
and he's thoroughly bad. But Nerado's a good enough old scout, in his
way. He's big and he's clean. You know, I could really like that fish,
if I could meet him on terms of equality sometime?"
"I couldn't!" she declared, vigorously. "He's crawly and scaly and
snaky; and he smells so ... so...."
"So rank and fishy?" Costigan laughed deeply. "Details, girl; mere
details. I've seen people who looked like money in the bank and who
smelled like a bouquet of violets that you couldn't trust half the
length of Nerado's neck."
"But look what he did to us!" she protested. "And they weren't trying to
recapture us back there; they were trying to kill us."
"That was perfectly all right, what he did and what they did--what else
could they have done?" he wanted to know. "And while you're looking,
look at what we did to them--plenty, I'd say. But we all had it to do,
and neither side will blame the other for doing it. He's a square
shooter, I tell you."
"Well, maybe, but I don't like him a bit, and let's not talk about him
any more. Let's talk about us. Remember what you said once, when you
advised me to 'let you lay,' or whatever it was?" Woman-like, she wished
to dip again lightly into the waters of pure emotion, even though she
had such a short time before led the man out of their profoundest
depths. But Costigan, into whose hard life love of woman had never
before entered, had not yet recovered sufficiently from his soul-shaking
plunge to follow her lead. Inarticulate, distrusting his newly found
supreme happiness, he must needs stay out of those enchanted waters or
plunge again. And he was afraid to plunge--diffident, still deeming
himself unworthy of the miracle of this wonder-girl's love--even though
every fiber of his being shrieked its demand to feel again that slender
body in his clasping arms. He did not consciously think those thoughts.
He acted them without thinking; they were inherent in his personality.
"I do remember, and I still think it's a sound idea, even though I am
too far gone now to let you put it into effect," he assured her, half
seriously. He kissed her, tenderly and reverently, then studied her
carefully. "But you look as though you'd been on a Martian picnic. When
did you eat last?"
"I don't remember, exactly. This morning, I think."
"Or maybe last night, or yesterday morning? I thought so! Bradley and I
can eat anything that's chewable, and drink anything that will pour, but
you can't. I'll scout around and see if I can't fix up something that
you'll be able to eat."
He rummaged through the store-rooms, emerging with sundry viands from
which he prepared a highly satisfactory meal.
"Think you can sleep now, sweetheart?" After supper, once more within
the circle of Costigan's arms, Clio nodded her head against his
"Of course I can, dear. Now that you are with me, out here alone, I'm
not a bit afraid any more. You will get us back to the earth some way,
sometime; I just know that you will. Good-night, Conway."
"Good-night, Clio ... little sweetheart," he whispered, and went back to
In due time the captain recovered consciousness, and slept. Then for
days the speedster flashed on toward our distant solar system; days
during which her wide-flung detector screens remained cold.
"I don't know whether I'm afraid they'll hit something or afraid that
they won't," Costigan remarked more than once, but finally those tenuous
sentinels did in fact encounter an interfering vibration. Along the
detector line a visibeam sped, and Costigan's face hardened as he saw
the unmistakable outline of Nerado's interstellar cruiser, far behind
"Well, a stern chase always was a long one," Costigan said finally. "He
can't catch us for plenty of days yet ... now what?" for the alarms of
the detectors had broken out anew. There was still another point of
interference to be investigated. Costigan traced it; and there, almost
dead ahead of them, between them and their sun, nearing them at the
incomprehensible rate of the sum of the two vessels' velocities, came
another cruiser of the Nevians!
"Must be the sister-ship, coming back from our System with a load of
iron," Costigan deduced. "Heavily loaded as she is, we may be able to
dodge her; and she's coming so fast that if we can stay out of her range
we'll be all right--she won't be able to stop for probably three or four
days. But if our super-ship is anywhere in these parts, now's the time
for her to rally 'round!"
He gave the speedster all the side-thrust she would take; then, putting
every available communicator tube behind a tight beam, he drove it
sunward and began sending out a long-continued call to his fellows of
Triplanetary's Secret Service.
Nearer and nearer the Nevian flashed, trying with all her power to
intercept the speedster; and it soon became evident that, heavily laden
though she was, she could make enough sideway to bring her within range
at the time of meeting.
"Of course, they've got partial neutralization of inertia, the same as
we have," Costigan cogitated, "and by the way he's coming I'd say that
he had orders to blow us out of the ether--he knows as well as we do
that he can't capture us alive at anything like the relative velocities
we've got now. I can't give her any more side thrust without overloading
the gravity controls, so overloaded they've got to be. Strap down, you
two, because they may go out entirely."
"Do you think that you can pull away from them, Conway?" Clio was
staring in horrified fascination into the plate, watching the pictured
vessel increase in size, moment by moment.
"I don't know, girl, but I'm going to try. Just in case we don't,
though, I'm going to keep on yelling for help. In solid? All right,
boat, DO YOUR STUFF!"